Thursday 14 April 2011

Tolkien as a Lucid Dreamer of Faery


The Notion Club Papers open with Ramer's accounts of what are often termed Lucid Dreams - that is, dreams in which the dreamer is aware they are dreaming, has some degree of control of the dream, and in which the dream experience feels real.

One question is whether Tolkien uses Lucid Dreaming as a literary device (although at the time he was writing there was no concept of Lucid Dreaming - but there was a long tradition of dreams of this type - whether shamanic, mystical, prophetic or pure imagination or fantasy - e.g. 'opium dreams'); or whether, on the other hand, Tolkien was using Ramer to report his own experiences.

I have argued in this blog that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Tolkien was indeed expressing his own dream experiences in a fictional form.


This inference has now been confirmed for me by a personal experience of Lucid Dreaming!

From this it is even clearer that Ramer's experiences are consistent with being precise reports of the experience of Lucid Dreaming.


From the perspective of the NCPs, the striking feature of a Lucid Dream is the feeling of sensory contact with the dream world.

In most instances, dreams are 'dreamy' - they have a feeling of imprecise unreality due to the constant shifting of association and the shortness of memory - so that the dream is happening to the dreamer (who is trying, but failing, to make sense of it), rather than in Lucid Dreams being dreamed-by the dreamer.

The Lucid Dream is not 'dreamy' - except in that it is known to be a dream, and that events unfold in a somewhat slow motion and emphatically experienced way. By contrast, it is more sensitively appreciated and considered than normal everyday reality: as if realer than real.


Furthermore, in a Lucid Dream moral agency is preserved: the dreamer consciously makes choices. This chimes with Tolkien's discussion in NCPs that there is potential for evil influences to enter dreams, but that this can only happen if the influences are invited by the dreamer.

By contrast, normal dreaming is not subject to the agency of the dreamer, and the dreamer is not responsible for what he dreams - because he cannot help what he dreams.


Assuming that Tolkien was indeed a Lucid Dreamer - and one for whom this was a regular experience, rather than my own one off experience - this leads onto further speculations.

The Lucid Dream turns out to be phenomenologically (experientially) identical to Tolkien's description of how elves might create Faerian Drama (as described in the essay On Fairy Stories and again discussed in the NCPs) - I mean the presumed elves experience of creating this kind of drama.


Furthermore, the rather overwhelming experience of Lucid Dreaming raises may of the problems about fantasy, its validity - and the nature of that validity, and the potential benefits and hazards; matters with which Tolkien so often grappled in his writings.

After all, Lucid Dreaming approximates to being given Absolute Power, and none knew better than Tolkien that Absolute Power has a strong tendency to corrupt.


In sum, I am suggesting that Faery, for Tolkien, was directly experienced via Lucid Dreams; and in that sense he was an intermittent visitor to Faery; and perhaps in that sense it was fear of a cessation of Lucid Dreaming which provoked Tolkiens mid-life poem The Sea Bell/ Frodo's Dreme/ Looney - and when the Lucid Dreams had actually stopped in Tolkien's experience, provoked Tolkien's late story of Smith of Wootton Major. The story was his farewell to Faery.


I make the tentative guess that Tolkien was always aware of the fragility and unpredictability of his ability to experience Lucid Dreams of Faery; and that when Tolkien stopped having Lucid Dreams in later life, he was (as it were) no longer 'allowed' to visit Faery himself, but had only fading memories of these experiences, and the hope that the ability would be passed-on to others - as the Faery star was passed-on by the eponymous Smith.



Wurmbrand said...

At your Bruce Charlton's Miscellany blog, you provide links to Orthodox Christian sources, specifically to the conservative tradition advocated by Seraphim Rose (with which I have much sympathy, incidentally).

This tradition often alludes to the danger of spiritual vainglory and delusion -- prelest' in Russian.

I'm wondering if conservative Orthodoxy authorities would not regard Ramer's dream-experiments and attempts to secure access to "memories" associated with (e.g.) meteorites as examples of prelest' -- or, put another way, if they are not intrinsically bad, how has Ramer managed to avoid prelest'? Obviously Ramer is a fictional character. I'm speculating about how someone such as Seraphim Rose might have viewed the Notion Club Papers.

(For that matter, given the enormous popularity of paperback editions of The Lord of the Rings, I wonder if SR didn't ever read them? Surely some of the pilgrims to the St. Herman skete must have read it...)

I wondered about whether Tolkien had much contact with Orthodoxy. C. S. Lewis, his friend, did have some contact. A convenient place to read about it is "Under the Russian Cross" by Andrew Walker, in Walker and James Patrick's A Christian for All Christians. Lewis seems to have been well acquainted with Nicholas and Militza Zernov at Oxford. NZ helped to found the Orthodox-Anglican fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius and apparently Lewis attended a conference at which issues between the two churches were discussed, etc. The article says that Lewis read a (now lost) paper called "A Toy, an Icon, and a Work of Art." His paper "Membership" was published in the Orthodox journal Sobornost.

However, my sense is that /this/ variety of Orthodoxy is one that SR would have viewed with suspicion as far too ecumenical and modern.

Wurmbrand said...

Early on in your comments on NCP (Fall 2009), you had an entry on "Tolkien as Mystic" in which you referred to material in which Ramer mentioned the possible contact of evil minds in dreams.

You commented that the belief that "purposive evil" exists in the universe is, modernity aside, "mainstream." In this connection you might have cited discussions in Gregory Boyd's book God at War. The author is an American evangelical pastor of a large church, but this book is well deserving of the attention of readers outside that Christian tradition. Boyd's purpose is to argue for a "warfare" theodicy, which he believes is characteristic of the Bible and of early Christian tradition, rather than a theodicy, which he identifies with Augustine and his successors such as Calvin, that maintains that for God to be "sovereign" He must exert exhaustive control. Boyd contends, with impressive scholarship, that God's war with satan and other evil agents is very real, although Boyd is not a dualist. I am reading his sequel, Satan and the Problem of Evil. It would have been interesting to see a review of these books from C. S. Lewis.

Bruce Charlton said...
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Bruce Charlton said...

Dale - in a nutshell, Ramer and the Notion Club (and the real life Inklings) avoid prelest because their explorations are driven by Love rather than Pride (or power-seeking).

In that sense they are 'elvish' (a race characterized by the love of knowledge, art, craft and natural philosophy for their own sakes).

I can't remember any awareness of Eastern Orthodoxy on the part of JRRT - he seems to have been satisfaied by pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism. As you say, there are numerous links between CSL and Orthodoxy:

Although both were 'mystics' to a significant extent; both CSL and JRRT would have appreciated the Orthodox emphasis on the hazards of seeking 'religious experience' - the desirability of spiritual supervision (provided in the NCP by the club itself), and the constant danger/ likelihood of demonic deception acting on power-seeking or the desire for novel sensation and emotional excitement.